My kind of president
Screw Bush or Kerry — why can’t someone like Mikheil Saakashvili run for president in the United States? As someone who witnessed first-hand the Soviet-style traffic police in action when living in Ukraine, I could only weep with joy after reading C.J. Chivers’ account in the New York Times of Saakashvili’s police reforms. The good ...
Screw Bush or Kerry -- why can't someone like Mikheil Saakashvili run for president in the United States? As someone who witnessed first-hand the Soviet-style traffic police in action when living in Ukraine, I could only weep with joy after reading C.J. Chivers' account in the New York Times of Saakashvili's police reforms. The good parts:
Screw Bush or Kerry — why can’t someone like Mikheil Saakashvili run for president in the United States? As someone who witnessed first-hand the Soviet-style traffic police in action when living in Ukraine, I could only weep with joy after reading C.J. Chivers’ account in the New York Times of Saakashvili’s police reforms. The good parts:
Georgia has had what it calls its Rose Revolution, the bloodless nudge last year that pushed President Eduard A. Shevardnadze from power. Now it is having a road revolution, utterly changing what it is like to drive in one corner of the former Soviet Union. This summer Mikhail Saakashvili, Mr. Shevardnadze’s successor, dismissed his nation’s traffic police officers, almost to a man, and a month later he replaced them with a force whose Western influences are unmistakable. Two remarkable things followed. First, for a month in Georgia there were almost no traffic police at all, a condition that led one Russian visitor to declare that in the summer of 2004 it was as if the White Guard had left the city, but the Red Guard had not arrived. According to Mr. Saakashvili, the accident rate held steady, which says more about the ineffectiveness of the former traffic cops than about the defensive driving habits of Georgian drivers, such as they are. The second and more lasting change is that Mr. Saakashvili appears to have struck a decisive blow against one of the most loathed figures to emerge from the collapse of the Soviet Union…. Even in the pandemic of corruption that is the former Soviet Union, traffic police officers are nearly universally regarded as an especially low form of social parasite, an opinion that holds true from Moscow to Samarkand. Georgia’s problems were of a type. It had become impossible to drive any distance without being stopped. Mr. Saakashvili said that was so because every traffic cop was expected to pay his supervisor a regular cut, and every supervisor paid his senior officer, up the chain of command. “It was like a pyramid,” he said in an interview in his office in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. “The police were the biggest headache in this country.” For Mr. Saakashvili, who has taken to fighting corruption with vigor, the traffic police, known here as GAI (pronounced ga-EE), were the perfect opponent for his fight card – flabby, unpopular and crooked, ready-made for a quick knockdown. He disbanded them in July. A new force was recruited, trained and dispatched by mid-August. Called the Patrol Police, it has a broader mission than traffic enforcement and is modeled after American state police. It is also smaller than GAI, with 1,600 officers, and better paid than the old, to reduce the temptation to levy informal driving taxes.
Read the whole thing. And here’s a backgrounder on Georgia’s current situation. Finally, a president who actually wants to shrink the state! UPDATE: Thanks to Jonathan Kulick, who links to this Economist story from July about Georgia’s new economy minister Kakha Bendukidze. The highlights:
If you want to buy a dysfunctional boiler house, an international airport, a tea plantation, an oil terminal, a proctology clinic, a vineyard, a telephone company, a film studio, a lost-property office or a beekeepers’ regulatory board, then call Kakha Bendukidze, Georgia’s new economy minister. His privatisation drive has made him a keen seller of all the above. And for the right price he will throw in the Tbilisi State Concert Hall and the Georgian National Mint as well. Mr Bendukidze made his name and fortune as an industrialist in neighbouring Russia, putting together the country’s biggest heavy-engineering group, OMZ, before returning to his native Georgia in June of this year with a mandate to reverse more than a decade of post-Soviet decay. He insists that he was taken by surprise when Georgia’s president, Mikhail Saakashvili, and prime minister, Zurab Zhvania, nobbled him for a chat in the course of a private visit he made to Tbilisi in May, and then offered him a ministerial job the same evening. But having said yes, he is cracking ahead, doing everything that businessmen must dream of making governments do. He says that Georgia should be ready to sell “everything that can be sold, except its conscience”. And that is just the start. Next year—if not sooner—he will cut the rate of income tax from 20% to 12%, payroll taxes from 33% to 20%, value-added tax from 20% to 18%, and abolish 12 kinds of tax altogether. He wants to let leading foreign banks and insurers open branches freely. He wants to abolish laws on legal tender, so that investors can use whatever currency they want. He hates foreign aid—it “destroys your ability to do things for yourself,” he says—though he concedes that political realities will oblige him to accept it for at least the next three years or so. As to where investors should put their money, “I don’t know and I don’t care,” he says, and continues: “I have shut down the department of industrial policy. I am shutting down the national investment agency. I don’t want the national innovation agency.” Oh yes, and he plans to shut down the country’s anti-monopoly agency too. “If somebody thinks his rights are being infringed he can go to the courts, not to the ministry.” He plans, as his crowning achievement, to abolish his own ministry in 2007. “In a normal country, you don’t need a ministry of the economy,” he says. “And in three years we can make the backbone of a normal country.”
The rest of the story explains why this schedule may be just a tad optimistic — but damn, do I like this guy’s instincts. Finally, a leader for the lower-right quadrant!! LAST UPDATE: Gavin Sheridan has lots of posts on Georgia.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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